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Cody Bellinger rejoins the Cubs with eyes on the postseason

Ryan Herrera Avatar
February 28, 2024

MESA, Ariz. — At about 10:30 p.m. Saturday night, Dansby Swanson woke up to his phone ringing. His former teammate, Cody Bellinger, was trying to FaceTime him.

The two had seen each other at a birthday party earlier in the day, but Bellinger didn’t let it slip that a new deal with the Cubs could be happening soon. And when Swanson saw Bellinger’s FaceTime later that night, instead of answering, he clicked it away.

Maybe he should’ve picked up.

The next morning, Swanson again woke up to a FaceTime from Bellinger. He answered it this time, and Bellinger let him know the big news: He had agreed to a three-year contract to return to the Cubs.

Swanson, who sat on stage at the Cubs Convention saying “before we get to next year, we gotta re-sign Belli,” had finally gotten his wish granted.

“This is something we all kind of asked for — maybe me, more specifically — throughout the offseason,” Swanson said, “but I feel like [president of baseball operations] Jed [Hoyer] and them obviously did a great job and were able to get it done. We’re all in a good spot, and we’re excited moving forward.”

At his re-introduction press conference Wednesday inside the Cubs’ spring training complex, Bellinger admitted to going into the offseason (represented by agent Scott Boras) with hopes of a longer-term contract.

But the way the Cubs’ 2023 season ended (finishing a game behind the last two National League wild card teams) stayed with him. So, once it became clear to Bellinger and his representation that this structure of a deal, a high average annual value with flexibility ($80 million over the three years, with opt outs after the first two seasons) was the route they’d have to take, returning to the Cubs became the focus.

“I didn’t hide the fact, internally, that I did wanna come back here,” Bellinger said. “I just loved Wrigley Field, I loved the fans. Me and my family enjoyed Chicago, and when it was coming towards the end and everything was kind of coming to light a little bit, this was definitely something that definitely I wanted and both sides agreed on. I’m super happy that it worked out the way it did.”

Not letting a new year end like the last one is now the goal for Bellinger as he enters his second season on the North Side. That team last year was right there, nearly finishing the 162-game race and playing on into October.

There’s unfinished business for the Cubs, and considering most of the roster has returned for 2024, bringing Bellinger back gives the group a boost to its postseason hopes.

“We were so close last year,” Bellinger said. “Really got banged up towards the end and fought ’til the very end. We got so close, and for me to come back here with almost the same team, to experience playoffs in Chicago is something that I wanna do. It’s something that I wanna experience, and it’s a big part of the reason why I did wanna come back here.”

Bellinger had been around the complex (out of the public eye, of course) the last few days, but he was finally able to join his teammates out on field Wednesday morning. His first workout of spring training featured some of the usual — defensive work, acting as a baserunner for infield drills and taking batting practice at Sloan Park.

Even at 28 years old, Bellinger is an established veteran at this point in his career. He knows how to keep his body right throughout the offseason, and he knows how long he’ll need to get ready for the regular season. So, sitting out the first couple weeks of spring training is far from the worst thing for him.

But still, finally getting back out there with the rest of the group is a feeling he’d been longing for.

“It feels amazing. I was craving baseball. I was fiending for it,” Bellinger said. “Just doing what I could in the offseason, enjoying all my family time, doing everything I could physically and mentally to stay ready for when the moment came. This was my first official day today. It feels really good, and I’m beyond excited to get going.”

On the first full-squad workout day of spring training last week, Cubs chairman Tom Ricketts said that while the two sides had discussed a reunion, those talks hadn’t “become a negotiation yet.”

That sent many in the fanbase into a frenzy. Some took it to mean either the Cubs or Bellinger’s camp were unserious about reuniting.

But Hoyer made it clear that that was very much not the case. The conversations between Hoyer and Boras began back in July, and Hoyer said he never wavered on the message that he wanted Bellinger back in the fold.

“With any negotiation, I think there’s sometimes a misperception that we just fire offers back and forth to each other,” Hoyer said. “I think there’s a lot of talking about what each side wanted, and I think over the last 5-7 days before we got the deal done, we kind of targeted a deal that made sense for both sides.

“At that point, we did start making offers and talking more often and getting serious. But we had a lot of talks, and our comments about Cody and our desire to bring him back never wavered. It was just a matter of finding the right fit.”

There were plenty of twists and turns during Bellinger’s free-agency saga, but the fact is that, now, he is once again a Cub.

A year ago, nobody knew what to expect from his one-year pillow contract after he was non-tendered by the Dodgers. By the end of his prove-it year, Bellinger hit .307 with an .881 OPS, a 134 wRC+, 26 home runs and 97 RBIs. He was worth 4.1 Wins Above Replacement (FanGraphs), and he was named the NL’s Comeback Player of the Year.

Parlaying that into a potential nine-figure, long-term contract didn’t happen. So, Bellinger and Boras pivoted to a deal they felt worked both for their side and for a team Bellinger actually wanted to play for.

Now that he is back, Hoyer isn’t expecting to make any other additions (though he’s not ruling anything out). This is the team the Cubs should be rolling into a new season with. Many of them are returning contributors from 2023, but there are also other additions that could be key to helping this team get over the playoff hump.

Still, none seem as important to that quest as Bellinger. Re-signing him was a priority this offseason, and now that it’s done, he and the Cubs only have one goal in mind.

“I did wanna come back to this team and I did wanna do my best to help,” Bellinger said. “I mean, we were so close last year. So close last year to becoming a playoff team, and that was a pretty important piece for me. I wanna help bring this team to the playoffs.”

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